Biography

John Raphael Roderigues Brandon (1817-77) and his younger brother Joshua Arthur Roderigues Brandon (1822-47) can be associated with the new generation of people with Jewish ancestry whose parents now had the means to send them into the professions — including architecture. Those who chose this career included Disraeli's cousin, George Basevi (1794-1845); David Moccatta (1806-82, who designed, amongst others, Brighton Station); David Brandon (1813-97, no relation to John Raphael and Joshua Arthur, but sometimes confused with the former); and Edward Salomons (1827-1906). However, the Brandons were of Sephardic Jewish ancestry only on their father's side. They were the sons of Joshua (Rodrigues) Brandon and his wife Mary Ann. The couple appear to have had a church wedding, most likely in 1813, and had their sons baptized while living in France. This information corrects some previous misconceptions and was kindly supplied by Laura Liebman, who points out that the brothers were therefore "not Jewish themselves either religiously or according to Jewish law," which "may help clarify why the brothers worked on church architecture."

John Raphael Brandon, usually known by his middle name, did part of his training in Alençon, France, under an architect identified by Annette Peach as J. Dédeau. The only similarly named architect on record there is Dominique Dedaux (1800-1865), who was later involved in major restoration work on the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Sées, and became the diocesan architect (see Leniaud). Brandon may have been sent to his practice and trained under a relative, if not under Dominique Dedaux himself. On his return, he was articled to the London architect Joseph Parkinson in 1836. Parkinson's name appears regularly in the list of subscribers to the Pugins' Examples of Gothic Architecture from 1831 onwards. Such a background helps to explain Brandon's focus on church architecture, and his involvement in the earliest stages of the Gothic Revival.

Despite the five year age-gap between Raphael and Joshua Brandon, the two soon established a practise together at Beaufort Buildings on the Strand, and were doing well until Joshua died in late 1847 after a very brief illness in his mid-twenties: "The loss is felt by his professional acquaintances with increased sorrow, on account of his personal conduct as a gentleman," reported The Builder of 8 December 1847 (603). It is hardly possible to distinguish their work up to that point and even for some time afterwards: "The brothers were most intimately associated in their professional studies and labours, and their names cannot be separated" (Burnet). Between them they were responsible for a number of churches, church restorations, and stations and engine houses on the London to Croydon line, as well as the Corn Exchange and the Town Hall in Colchester, Essex. The latter, designed in collaboration with another London architect, John Blore (1812-82), was opened in 1845 — the very year in which Blore succeeded Basevi as surveyor of the prestigious Alexander Estate in Kensington (see Sheppard). Sadly, the handsome building that this team produced would prove inadequate before the century was out. It was demolished in 1897 to make way for a new municipal office in keeping with the more grandiose ones of that time.

Left to right: (a) Colchester Town Hall, completed 1845, demolished 1897. (b) Plate 4 from Analysis of Gothic Architecture, showing carved foliage details from the particularly beautiful New Shoreham Church (St Mary de Haura's), Sussex. (c) Dedication of Parish Churches.

The Colchester buildings were in a neo-classical style. But the brothers also prepared three influential architectural books together, which encouraged the Gothic trend. It was these books for which they became best known. They were Analysis of Gothic Architecture (parts I-IV published by 1844); Parish Churches (published in twelve parts, 1846-47, then issued in one volume in 1848, soon after Joshua's death, with a poignant dedication to him); and Open Timber Roofs of the Middle Ages (published in 1849). The brothers were clearly "ardent students of Gothic architecture, and directed their studies entirely to English examples," writes G. W. Burnet, so that the three books illustrated "the purest specimens of Early English ecclesiastical architecture," and served as pattern books for those adopting the current fashion. It was a long-lived fashion, too, so much so that Thomas Hardy, writing his memoirs late in life under his wife's name, and recalling his own days in architectural training, said that the brothers' publications were "quite text-books for architects' pupils till latterly" (78).

The Analysis of Gothic Architecture was a compendium of "upwards of 700 examples of doors, windows, and other details of existing ecclesiastical architecture industriously compiled from actual measurements taken from little known parish churches throughout the country, with illustrative remarks on the various classes of items" (Burnet): the Athenaeum reviewer of the first parts in November 30 1844 found it "well-timed," appearing "just when the study of Gothic and ecclesiastical architecture is exciting a degree of interest that may be called not only warm, but in some instances very hot" (1098). However, according to Burnet, the most important of the works was the one about churches, which contained "a series of perspective views of sixty-three churches selected from most of the counties of England, accompanied by plans of each drawn to a uniform scale and a short letterpress description.... a faithful record of antiquities which few can visit for themselves." Indeed, The Builder devoted its whole leader to it on 14 April 1849, regretting that so many of the churches featured were in a "miserably-neglected and decaying state," but hoping that such studies would enable architects to produce "work on the same system as their mediaeval predecessors rather than from the same moulds, and be artists rather than artificers" (169). The brothers' last book, on timber roofs, was influential too. The Builder again reviewed it in their leader, though not at such length, describing it on 9 June 1849 as "a very valuable contribution to architectural history" (265)

(a) Christ the King Church, Gordon Square (1850-53). (b) All Saints, Kingston-upon-Thames (extension and extensive restoration, 1862-66).

Raphael Brandon achieved his masterpiece after his brother's death, but it drew on many of the features that they explored together: this was the huge, cathedral-like Christ the King alongside Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, built at first as a Catholic Apostolic church for the growing number of followers of Edward Irving, and later serving as the University church for the University of London. Brandon, himself a member of the controversial Irvingite church (see Ashton 175), worked here in collaboration with another neo-Gothic architect, Robert Ritchie, who is known to have been engaged for the neo-Gothic Waldegrave wing extension of Strawberry Hill.

In general, however, Brandon's architectural career was faltering. He failed for example in his bid for the Law Courts commission. The Building News commentator called his vision for this important building, shown here as it appeared in a double spread of 31 May 1867, "a meritorious design, most elaborately and conscientiously worked out, replete with many excellent features and good detail," but found its ecclesiastical atmosphere regrettable, and later criticised it for its lack of originality: "To reproduce almost line for line not only all the horizontal divisions of a medieval minster, its nave and aisles and apse, and even its apsidal chapels, but also all the vertical divisions of main arcade, triforium, and clerestory, is an error of judgment that would be quite inexcusable if we did not think that its author had by this time heartily repented of it" (illustration facing p. 374; text on pp. 142 and 219).

This must have stung the architect, whose temperament, apparently, was "over-sensitive" (Burnet). Hardy, who did some work for him at the beginning of the seventies and "became fond of him" (Pite 176), said in the autobiography that he published through his wife that he had based the barrister Henry Knight's office in A Pair of Blue Eyes on Brandon's rooms at 17 Clement's Inn:

First was a small anteroom, divided from the inner apartment by a wainscoted archway two or three yards wide. Across this archway hung a pair of dark-green curtains, making a mystery of all within the arch except the spasmodic scratching of a quill pen. Here was grouped a chaotic assemblage of articles — mainly old framed prints and paintings — leaning edgewise against the wall, like roofing slates in a builder's yard. All the books visible here were folios too big to be stolen — some lying on a heavy oak table in one corner, some on the floor among the pictures, the whole intermingled with old coats, hats, umbrellas, and walking-sticks. [104]

It is a gloomy setting for Knight, and must have been so for Brandon. By now it seems that the architect's reputation had faded, apparently because he was too scholarly in his approach, and too attached to English Gothic when French had become more popular (see Millgate 117; Pite 177). Hardy himself felt that he had "drifted into a backwater, spending much time in strange projects and hopes, one of these being a scheme for unifying railway-fares on the principle of letter-postage" (Thomas and Florence Hardy 78). Brandon also suffered personal tragedies. He had got married rather late to Harriet Stredwick, at St Clement Dane's on the Strand on 19 June 1860. The couple lost a child, most likely the infant named Thomas Brandon whose death was registered in the same area (Strand) in the year following their marriage. Harriet herself died in 1874 at the age of only thirty-six. Like one of Hardy's other friends, Horace Moule, who had committed suicide in 1873, Brandon became deeply depressed. The unhappy architect finally shot himself in the head in his chambers, and at the inquest his brother-in-law and housekeeper both testified to his low state of mind, the brother-in-law talking of his "very feeble state of health" and the housekeeper recalling previous references to suicide. Hardy could not but be disturbed by the news (Thomas and Florence Hardy 119).

It was a very sad end to a life once so full of promise, but Brandon and his brother had had a great impact with their early writings, and the surviving brother Raphael Brandon did leave behind him, amongst others, the landmark building in Gordon Square, and some major restorations — like that of another Grade I listed church, All Saints, Kingston-upon-Thames. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Works

Sources

Analysis of Gothic Architecture (Review). The Athenaeum Journal of Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts. 1844. Google Books. Free Ebook. Web. 3 May 2015.

Ashton, Rosemary. Victorian Bloomsbury. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012.

Brandon, Raphael and Joshua Arthur. An Analysis of Gothic Architecture. Vol. II. London: David Bogue, 1849. Internet Archive. Contributed by Robarts Library, the University of Toronto. Web. 3 May 2015.

Building News and Engineering Journal. Vol 14. Internet Archive. Uploaded by Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto. Web. 3 May 2015. [Note: The dark centrefold band has been digitally removed from the illustration, but it has still left some unavoidable distortion, especially near the top of the tower.]

Burnet, G. W. "Brandon, John Raphael (1817-1877). Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. II (BEAL-BROMWELL). Ed. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. New York: Macmillan / London: Smith, Elder, 1908. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of California. Web. 3 May 2015.

Free BMD. Web. 3 May 2015.

"Holy Trinity Church, Richmond." The Times. 27 August 1869: 6. Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 May 2015.

Hardy, Thomas. A Pair of Blue Eyes. London: Wordsworth Classics, 1995.

Hardy, Thomas and Florence. Thomas Hardy. London: Wordsworth Editions, 2007.

International Genealogical Index of Marriages. Web. 3 May 2015.

Jamilly, Edward. "Anglo-Jewish Architects, and Architecture in the 18th and 19th Centuries." Transactions (Jewish Historical Society of England). Vol. 18 (1953-55): 127-141. Accessed via Jstor. Web. 3 May 2015.

"The Late Mr J. A.Brandon." The Builder. 8 December 1847: 603. Bodleian Library. Web. 3 May 2015.

Leader. The Builder. 14 April 1849: 169. Bodleian Library. Web. 3 May 2015.

Leader. The Builder. 9 June 1849: 265. Bodleian Library. Web. 3 May 2015.

Leniaud, Jean-Michel. "Répertoire des architectes diocésains du XIXe siècle." Sorbonne. Web. 3 May 2015.

Liebman, Laura, in correspondence with the present author.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited. Paperback ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

"Municipal buildings." In A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Ed. Janet Cooper and C. R. Elrington (London, 1994): 274-277. British History Online. Web. 3 May 2015.

"The New Courts Of Law." The Times. 11 February 1867: 12. Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 May 2015.

Peach, Annette. "Brandon, John Raphael Rodrigues (1817–1877), architect and writer; also including Joshua Arthur Rodrigues Brandon (1822–1847)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 3 May 2015.

Pite, Ralph. Thomas Hardy: The Guarded Life. London: Macmillan (Picador paperback), 2007.

[Report of Inquest.] The Times. 13 October 1877: 6. Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 April 2015. Web. 2 May 2015.

Sheppard, F. W., ed. "The Alexander Estate." Survey of London: Volume 41, Brompton. London, 1983: 58-86. Web. 3 May 2015.


Created 17 June 2017